The Iranian regime seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz Friday and briefly detained a second, marking a fresh escalation of tensions between Tehran and the West.
The U.K.-flagged Stena Impero, which has 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationalities aboard, “was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters,” Stena Bulk, the shipping company that owns the vessel, said in a statement. “We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran.”
The Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), in a statement on their website, said the ship was seized for “non-compliance with international maritime laws and regulations” and is being brought to an unnamed Iranian port, according to the Associated Press. Websites tracking the ship’s path showed it turn sharply in the direction of Iran’s Qeshm Island, instead of its intended destination of Saudi Arabia.
“We are urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf,” a U.K. government spokesperson told Fox News.
Stena Bulk said: “there have been no reported injuries and their safety is of primary concern to both owners and managers.”
Approximately an hour later, a Liberian-flagged tanker Mesdar was also seized by the IRGC and was seen on maritime tracking services making a turn toward Iran. However, the tanker’s owner later said the ship was briefly boarded by armed guards before being allowed to go. The Iranian regime’s semi-official Fars news agency tweeted that the Mesdar had left Iran’s territorial waters.
“These seizures are unacceptable,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said as he prepared to enter an emergency government meeting Friday night. “It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”
“We’re not looking at military options, we’re looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation, but we are very clear that it must be resolved,” Hunt later told Sky News, warning that if the situation is not resolved quickly “there will be serious consequences.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that Iran’s regime is “nothing but trouble” and that “we heard one, we heard two,” tankers were seized.
“Iran is showing their colors,” the president told reporters before departing the White House to spend the weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “Iran is in big trouble right now. Their economy is crashing, it’s coming to a crash … It’s very easy to straighten out or it’s very easy for us to make it worse.”
“This is the second time in just over a week the UK has been the target of escalatory violence by the Iranian regime,” National Security Council Spokesman Garrett Marquis said. “The U.S. will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior.”
The seizures come two weeks after British Royal Marines seized a tanker off the island of Gibraltar that authorities said carried oil bound for Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. The Iranian regime threatened Britain that it would face “repercussions” over that seizure. Last week, a British warship blocked three Iranian vessels from seizing another U.K.-flagged tanker.
UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Bob Sanguinetti said in a statement that the seizure was “in violation of international regulations which protect ships and their crews as they go about their legitimate business in international waters” and called on the British government to do “whatever is necessary” to ensure the safe and swift return of the ship’s crew.
Richard Meade, the managing editor of the influential shipping industry publication Lloyds List, said the Stena Impero’s seizure is “probably the highest level security threat that we have seen in the region since the late 80s.”
Based in part on wire reports